“I won’t let it take me down.” Tanner Hutchinson shares his story

“It doesn’t matter how many procedures I get, how many times they need to take blood, how many drugs they are administering – I won’t let it take me down. And people out there who are going through something similar – remember you are strong, and we can overcome this together.”

Tanner (right) with his partner Makenzie.

Tanner Hutchinson was in his early 20s, just starting an exciting new job as a red seal journeyman electrician and physically fit. Life was good.

Then the exhaustion hit. “Out of nowhere, this fatigue hit me, like I had the flu or something. It was unexplainable. I felt cold and hot, a headache and I thought I needed a Red Bull so that’s what I did, I drank a Red Bull,” he recalls. “Going back to camp that night the symptoms continued. It was no different than the average flu, night sweats, low-grade fever. It put me to bed though, I couldn’t stay awake and being someone who doesn’t miss work I wasn’t going to start now, especially with my new job. I didn’t want to seem weak. “

Tanner Hutchinson was in his early 20s, just starting an exciting new job as a red seal journeyman electrician and physically fit. Life was good. Then the exhaustion hit. “Out of nowhere, this fatigue hit me, like I had the flu or something. It was unexplainable. I felt cold and hot, a headache and I thought I needed a Red Bull so that’s what I did, I drank a Red Bull,” he recalls. “Going back to camp that night the symptoms continued. It was no different than the average flu, night sweats, low-grade fever. It put me to bed though, I couldn’t stay awake and being someone who doesn’t miss work I wasn’t going to start now, especially with my new job. I didn’t want to seem weak. “

Weeks went by and Tanner couldn’t shake the sudden and strange symptoms. He didn’t even recognize his former self. “I was constantly sick and I’m not a sick person,” he says. When he found a massive lump on the side of his neck, Tanner made a panicked call to his doctor. The ultrasound and bloodwork results came back within normal range and Tanner was sent home with instructions to put a cold compress on his neck. But things were about to get worse. Soon lumps formed in his groin, along his collar bone and on his armpits. Clusters and clusters of swollen lymph nodes. Depression set in and his body sent out red flags. Drenching night sweats, weight loss, insomnia, anxiety and fear. And doctors told him he was too young to be seriously sick. “I was scared,” Tanner says.  “The worst part – I went to five different doctors and all of them brushed me off.”

Running into an old friend changed everything and, as Tanner says, it saved his life. She listened and she enlisted help. Her partner, who is a doctor, got Tanner in to see a specialist who immediately suspected he had lymphoma. The note the doctor wrote one day in January 2020 put Tanner’s career on hold and sent him hurtling into an uncertain and scary world of tests and treatments. After undergoing a biopsy and CT scan, he was sent to the Cross Cancer Institute where he finally got an explanation – he had peripheral T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I was also told it was potentially treatable but the bad news? It was likely to relapse. The next few weeks were tough, I had a bone marrow biopsy, a CVAD line installed from my chest up to my neck, numerous very invasive tests and procedures,” he says. Today, the Spruce Grove resident is undergoing his fifth round of high-dose chemotherapy. Tanner says that chemotherapy has its ups and downs but it doesn’t matter because it is worth it and “This disease picked the wrong guy to mess with.”

Tanner says being a young adult with cancer has its unique challenges – which go beyond doctors initially dismissing his symptoms.

“Anxiety is a huge one. Being told that you have a rare form of cancer that’s very aggressive and tough to treat? Told that you have four days to decide if they want to have children in the future? The thoughts that go through your head are endless. Am I going to survive? how will I pay my bills? how am I going to beat this? People treat you differently. You’re a patient. You’re not the same person anymore. It’s a weird feeling but it’s the truth.”

“It’s emotional, I cried a lot at the beginning, I would go for a drive and a song would come on and I would just break down, calling friends and telling them, ‘Hey, I have something to tell you,’ and you can barely get the words out,” he says. “But as the days go on you learn to be yourself again and you learn to not let it define you. I decided that before my first chemo, I was strong and I wasn’t going to let anything beat me. I’m a very competitive person and I’ll go as many rounds as it takes to beat this,” Tanner says. “Going on walks, watching movies, listening to good music reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in awhile helps a lot. It’s weird how cancer brings people closer.”

Tanner calls his partner, Makenzie, his rock and credits family and friends for helping him as he navigates cancer treatment.  He also has a puppy, something he considers part of his therapy because she “brings joy, rather than fear.”

Although Tanner can talk about it now, he says that initially the will to even tell people about his diagnosis took time. “Only my partner knew, not even my parents. I was scared to talk about it ‘cause it made it more real. But once I did it was like opening a door. I was able to reach out to people about not only cancer but mental and physical health. You need a support system. You need to talk about it and you have to come to realize you got dealt a bad hand, what’s your next move?,” he says. If he could advise anyone in a similar situation, Tanner says he would tell them to be open. “It’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to talk about what’s going on. I regret holding in a lot of feelings because they all came crashing down at once and put me into a state of depression that I didn’t know how to get out of. Take it one day at a time and don’t be scared to tell people ‘no.’ This is your time. It’s about you and healing. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat but eat clean meals. You’re going to lose weight and that’s okay, it’s all part of the journey.”

Although Tanner can talk about it now, he says that initially the will to even tell people about his diagnosis took time. “Only my partner knew, not even my parents. I was scared to talk about it ‘cause it made it more real. But once I did it was like opening a door. I was able to reach out to people about not only cancer but mental and physical health. You need a support system. You need to talk about it and you have to come to realize you got dealt a bad hand, what’s your next move?,” he says. If he could advise anyone in a similar situation, Tanner says he would tell them to be open. “It’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to talk about what’s going on. I regret holding in a lot of feelings because they all came crashing down at once and put me into a state of depression that I didn’t know how to get out of. Take it one day at a time and don’t be scared to tell people ‘no.’ This is your time. It’s about you and healing. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungry, eat but eat clean meals. You’re going to lose weight and that’s okay, it’s all part of the journey.”

“The biggest thing for myself is to remember cancer does not define me as a person and I will never let it. In the future, if people want information they can feel free to ask but it won’t be a topic of discussion for me. I don’t believe in dwelling on the past and this too will pass,” he says “It doesn’t matter how many procedures I get, how many times they need to take blood, how many drugs they are administering – I won’t let it take me down. And people out there who are going through something similar – remember you are strong, and we can overcome this together.”

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